Short Book on William Morris

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/03/2018 - 10:40pm in

One of the programmes on the BBC Radio 4 series on the history of British Socialism Present by Anne McElvoy was, naturally, on William Morris, the great British artist, writer – he translated a number of Icelandic sagas, and is regarded as one of the founder of modern genre Fantasy – and social activist and revolutionary Socialist, William Morris.

If you don’t have the time or patience for a full scale biography of Morris, but want to know a bit more about him, I can recommend Peter Stansky’s William Morris (Oxford: OUP 1983). It was published as part of OUP’s ‘Past Masters’ series of short biographies of the great figures of the past, like Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Darwin, and so on. It’s only 96 pages, including index. The chapters are as follows:

1. Youth
2. Oxford
3. Red House and the Firm
4. Poetry and Early Politics
5 The 1880s
6 Last Years

There’s also a section for further reading. The blurb for it on the back cover runs

William Morris was one of the great figures of the Victorian age; an artist and craftsman and a successful writer of romances. He was also an ardent socialist and leader of the labour movement. His concern for the place of art in society, and his analysis of that society’s discontent, place Morris as a thinker in the company of Marx and Ruskin. Peter Stansky presents, in the context of his age, and in all his engaging multiplicity, the life and personality of a man whom a contemporary perceptively described as ‘The Earthly Paradox’.

Some things speak for themselves (DuSable museum edition)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 27/02/2018 - 12:00am in



This could still be a metaphor for…so many things.

More DuSable pics below the fold

For those steeped in Pullman porter’s special place in civil rights history, this is poignant.


Harold Washington (android version).

Reasons to carry a decent camera in Chicago, part 43

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 25/02/2018 - 1:07am in



I love carrying a camera around Chicago for those random moments worth capturing. I rarely do video. But my Lumix FZ300 does a pretty nice job. And Chicago street musicians can sometimes really rock it. If anyone knows this band, please note it in the comments. And yeah, I dropped some bucks into their bin.

The CAA and the JLM are the Israel Lobby’s Version of the ‘Anti-Paki League’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/02/2018 - 10:07pm in

The Anti-Paki League were another bunch of extreme right-wing racists, who goose-stepped up and down our green and pleasant land in the 1970s campaigning against coloured immigration, and terrorising Blacks and Asians. They had an ugly name, which exactly expressed the ugliness of the organisation. I first became aware of the Leagues existence when I saw a book on them in the former Midland Educational bookshop in Bristol’s Broadmead in the ’70s or early ’80s. The cover showed a crowd in Klan robes about to behead a prone and screaming Black man.

I’ve chosen the Anti-Paki League to focus on here, rather than other, larger anti-immigrant and racist organisation, like the National Front or BNP, because their name also carries with it undertones of Islamophobia. Pakistan is a Muslim state. It was explicitly set up to be the country where Muslims, who felt excluded by the dominant Hindus in India, could live in according with Qu’ran and the Sunna. Not all Pakistani immigrants are Muslim, however. Many of them have been Christians, who have left their homeland because of the increasing violence and intolerance of their Muslim compatriots.

And Islamophobia and connections to other, nakedly Fascistic British anti-Muslim organisations, run right through the Israel lobby and its organisations like the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement. The racism and Islamophobia at the heart of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism is very clear in its statement that Muslims are more likely than the rest of the British population to be anti-Semitic, whom they also smear as sharing the same Jew hatred.

As for the JLM, their head, Jonathan Newmark, an unconvicted embezzler from Jewish charities, if the allegations against him are true, turned up to disrupt a film on the sufferings of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, held at the SOAS university. They did so in the company of the Jewish Defence League, the Jewish branch of the Fascist English Defence League, screaming, hurling abuse and waving flags.

Mike’s been unfairly accused of being an anti-Semite, because the uncomfortable facts he covered about Shai Masot’s attempts to plot the removal and replacement of prominent cabinet ministers, which he rightly described as a conspiracy, was held to be an ‘anti-Semitic trope’.

Well, turning up to a screening of film to disrupt it by flag-waving racial nationalists is a Fascist trope. Since the time of Mosley’s BUF, the stormtroopers of the British Nazi right have used appropriated the Union Flag and other emblems of Britishness for their insignia and rallies. The National Front despised Mosley, but they adopted the same tactic to try to win over members.

And Fascists also aggressively disrupt anti-racist and left-wing gatherings, including films. The parallel to their JDL’s disruption of the film on the Palestinians that comes to my mind is the attack Christian Fascists in France in the 1920s made on the screening of Bunuel’s and Dali’s Surrealist film, L’Age d’Or. As Marxists, the Surrealists were extremely anti-religious with a bitter hatred of Christianity. The French Christian far right objected to the film because it showed a monstrance being thrown into a river, and ended with a group of skeletons lying on a rock wearing clerical vestments such as bishop’s mitres.

And the Israel lobby’s connection to mainstream British Islamphobic Fascism don’t end there. A few months ago Jonathan Hoffman, another prominent member of the Israel lobby was photographed getting very chummy with Paul Besser, the intelligence officer of Britain First, if ‘Intelligence officer’ in this context isn’t a contradiction in terms.

These are fake anti-racist organisations. They don’t exist to protect Jews from real anti-Semitism. They exist to defend Israel and its racist oppression of the Palestinians by pretending to defend Jews from anti-Semitism. And they do this by smearing Israel’s critics, including self-respecting secular and Torah-observant Jews, as anti-Semites.

They are Fascists. The CAA should lose its charitable status, and the Jewish Labour Movement, as a Fascist organisation, should be closed down. Real socialists and anti-racist activists should not be tolerating any racist organisation, no matter what it’s ethnicity is, in their party.

The Goose and the Common — The Privatization of Public Space

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 18/02/2018 - 11:48am in

“The [following 18th century folk] poem is one of the pithiest condemnations of the English enclosure movement, the process of fencing off common land and turning it into private property. In a few lines, the poem manages to criticize double standards, … Continue reading →

TNT Nation: Daily Mail Racists Freak Out as Cheddar Man Revealed as Black

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/02/2018 - 12:16am in

One of the big stories last week was the unveiling of the reconstructed face of Cheddar Man. As Jeff Waldorf points out in this clip from TNT Nation, this is a prehistoric man, named after where he was found, and not a man literally made of cheese. Cheddar Man, or rather, his skeleton, was found in the caves in Cheddar in Somerset, England, way back in 1906. The skeleton’s 16,000 or so years old, and so dates from about the end of the last Ice Age. The scientists reconstructing his features also used for the first time DNA analysis to gauge his skin and eye colour. And it turns out that he had ‘dark to black skin’ and blue eyes.

They scientists were able to do this using DNA they were able to extract from the skeleton. This had genetic markers similar to those for dark skin, which is also present in ten per cent of the modern British population. Cheddar Man’s colouring was a surprise for the scientists, as they expected him to have white skin and blond or light hair, as an adaptation to the extreme cold. Commenting on the revelation that he was black, one scientist said that it showed that British has not always been associated with Whiteness. It had changed, and would change again in the future. I think they were also able to trace the ultimate origins of Cheddar Man’s people, as they entered Britain from a route across southern Europe ultimately going back to Turkey.

I’m not surprised by this revelation. It’s been suggested since at least the 1990s that the first anatomically modern humans – Homo Sapiens Sapiens – who entered and colonised Europe, were dark-skinned. Back in the 1990s a Channel 4 series on human evolution showed a reconstruction of these people, as they would have looked 40,000 or so years ago, edging along the primeval European countryside as Black. The programme also consciously reversed the idea, promoted in many past books and articles on them, that the Neanderthals were Black. The programme instead argued that they would have had light skins as an adaptation to the arctic temperatures in Europe. If you also look at the remains of our ancient ancestors, you also find that they have more archaic features, like a strong brow ridge, than the other humans in Africa, who were much more gracile. I think its these archaic features which led some archaeoanthropologists to state that some of these humans were of the same physical build as Aboriginal Australians, because these ancient people have also retained some features of archaic humanity.

The real shock, as one of the articles about Cheddar Man said last week, is how recently White skin and hair evolved – in the last 10,000 years or so. It’s much more recent than they expected. However, I can remember reading in a review of the film The Clan of the Cave Bear in Starburst one of the criticisms of that movie. It starred Daryl Hannah as a Cro Magnon woman growing up with a family of Neanderthals. Hannah’s blond, and the article pointed out that blonde hair is only supposed to have evolved 10,000 or so years ago – much later than the age the film, and the book on which it was based, by Jean Auel, is set.

The revelation that Cheddar Man was Black, however, set the racists off. And here Waldorf reads out and tears to pieces some of the comments about this story left on the Daily Mail’s website. And they go from the reasonable, to the completely mad.

Waldorf begins with the comment from one individual, who wonders if the genetic reconstruction is accurate, given the age of the skeleton and difficulty of extracting genetic information from remains that ancient. He states, however, that he isn’t a scientist, but has simply watched a lot of documentaries. Waldorf mocks him for this, which is actually unfair. It’s a reasonable question, as the impression I’ve had from watching the same kind of documentaries is that ancient DNA can be extremely delicate, and is very often fragmentary, so it can actually be very difficult to extract useful genetic information from human remains. I can remember reading an article a few years ago, which made this point when discussing the Neanderthals to show why scientists have not tried to recreate them genetically.

And then there’s the completely bonkers. Another commenter wondered if there wasn’t something deeper going on here. They smelt a conspiracy, as the revelation that Cheddar Man was Black came after, so this person believed, the collapse of the ‘out of Africa’ theory of human origins, and the proof that the Ancient Egyptians weren’t African. First of all, if the theory that humans first evolved in Africa and then spread outwards across the globe has collapsed, then no-one’s told me. Or any of the anthropologists and archaeologists working in this field. The only people I can think of who reject the theory are, er, marginal thinkers. Or cranks. Waldorf takes apart the claim that the ancient Egyptians weren’t Africans, by pointing out that ancient Egypt actually had a very diverse population, and that in the south they tended to be darker than in the north. Also, Egypt is part of Africa.

This comment seems to echo back to the views of some of the White racial supremacists that the ancient Egyptians, as the citizens of an advanced ancient civilisation, couldn’t possibly be Black, and were instead White and European in appearance. This is, of course, vehemently rejected by AFrocentrist historians, who argue instead that they were Black. If you look at the way the ancient Egyptians depicted themselves in their art – in the tomb paintings, for example, they are lighter than the darker skinned Nubian peoples to their south. Male ancient Egyptians are portrayed as having reddish brown skin, while women are yellow. Nubians are painted with black skin. Even so, they are still darker than the Europeans, which appear in their art, such as the people of Minoan Crete. These are depicted with pink skin. The scientifically accepted view is that the peoples of North Africa, including ancient Egypt, were White.

However, way back in the 1990s or the early part of this century some anthropologists reconstructed the faces of people from Roman Egypt. This found that their features were more strongly African than the portraits of them painted on to their mummy cases, which made them look more European. There were definite cultural and economic reasons why an ancient Egyptian really wouldn’t want to be seen as ‘Black’. Roman Egypt was a horrible, racist, apartheid state, where the indigenous Egyptian population was taxed more than those of Greek or European descent. This would have left many Egyptians with feelings of inferiority about their African features, which they would have tried to cover up.

There was also the suggestion by one archaeologist that the ultimate origins of the ancient Egyptian civilisation lay in a Black tribe from further south, which migrated to the north. This archaeologist came to this conclusion through examining some of the early henge monuments, which predate the ancient Egyptian civilisation proper by thousands of years. I think these were similar to those in the Black African nations further south. One of the stones in these monuments also seemed deliberately shaped to resemble a cow. Hathor was the ancient Egyptians’ cow goddess, and so there’s the suggestion that she was a survival from this ancient, pastoralist Black African culture.

I also came across another story in the paper recently, which said that the ancient Egyptians weren’t African after all. I didn’t get the opportunity to read it – I only glimpsed the headline in passing – and so can’t really comment on it. But it seems unlikely to me. The Egyptologist John Romer criticised the notion that the ancient Egyptians were White way back in the 1990s in his Channel 4 series, Great Excavations. In one episode, he discussed the various diffusionist theories of human evolution and progress, and how they were influenced by 19th century theories of racial supremacy and conquest. Diffusionism is the archaeological theory that advances in civilisation occur through successive societies and races conquering their predecessors. Early archaeologists were busy examining the remains of these past cultures, and especially their skull and head shapes, in order to develop a classification of the various races these different physical types represented. As the ancient Egyptians were an advanced civilisation, they confidently expected them to have their origins in the lighter skinned peoples further east.

Except that they didn’t. The ancient Egyptian people remained the same stock, unchanged, as their culture developed and flourished around them. They created their culture themselves, without any other invading race creating or imposing a superior culture after them. Of course, at times ancient Egypt was conquered by outside nations, such as the Semitic Hyksos kings and the Nubians, who produced a line of Black pharaohs. They were also an important power themselves in the ancient Near East, at one point holding Syria and Palestine. But ancient Egyptian culture was their own creation, and not the result of invasion by some biologically superior race. And as far as I know, the only people, who believe that the ancient Egyptians had blonde hair and blue eyes are neo-Nazis.

Now I think there is a subtle message behind this recent discovery of Cheddar Man’s complexion. I think some of the comments made by the experts about his colouring and Britishness – that it is only relatively recently that White skin has evolved, and that Britishness is not necessarily connected to Whiteness – have been made to make an anti-racist point. It wasn’t just the scientist quoted by the TNT clip. There was another quote in the papers by someone saying that we may have to rethink the relationship between Britishness and Whiteness. It’s a reasonable, scientifically informed comment. But the recreation of Cheddar Man with dark skin clearly touched a nerve amongst the racists reading the Daily Heil.

As for Cheddar Man himself, he still has descendants in the area. Or at least, a descendant. A few years ago scientists sampled his DNA, and then tested the other people in Cheddar to see if they were related. It turns out one of them was – the headmaster of the local school. He was quite happy about it, but his mother was really upset, worrying what people would think. Well, if they’re sensible, they won’t think anything disparaging. As I said, these people were exactly like us modern humans. They had the same physical features and the same intelligence. They weren’t lumbering ape-men by any means. The only difference between modern people and them is that they lived over 10,000 years ago, when much of Britain was a frozen wilderness. I can even imagine some people being slightly envious, that this chap has an ancestry that can be traced back to this incredibly remote period.

Radio 4 Series Next Week on History of British Socialism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/02/2018 - 12:12am in

Radio 4 is broadcasting a new series on weekdays next week (19th-23rd February) on the history of British Socialism, entitled British Socialism: The Grand Tour. The episodes are only a quarter of an hour long, but it’s a ten-part series with an omnibus edition at the end of the week. The programmes begin on Monday, and are on a 1.45 in the afternoon. The blurb for this in the Radio Times runs

Anne McElvoy traces the emergence of socialism in the UK and examines three competing approaches to changing Britain in the interests of working people, comprising utopian visiosn of transformation, local co-operative societies, and plans to take contral of the central state.

Here are blurbs for the other programmes, and the day’s they’re shown.

The Chartists

Anne McElvoy explores how Chartism emerged in the 19tyh century as the first truly national working class mass movement.

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers

Anne McElvoy explores the great Victorian tradition of mutual self-help, visiting Rochdale, where a small band of workers gave birth to the co-operative movement.

The Revolutionaries

Anne McElvoy traces William Morris’ steps from wallpaper designer to revolutionary, as well as the dreams and romantic visions of his friends.

Keir Hardie

Anne McElroy traces how Keir Hardie, an ex-Liberal trade unionist, became leader of Britain’s socialist Parliamentary party.

The omnibus edition is on Friday evening at 9.00. The paragraph covering it in the Radio Times simply states

The first of two omnibus programmes. Anne McElroy traces the emergence of socialism in the UK, from utopian visions of transformation to the arrival of Labour MPs in Parliament in 1906.

Hamburg’s Lessing Prize Winner Announced

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 06/02/2018 - 1:25am in

Every four years, the city of Hamburg, Germany awards a prize, named for Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, to honor achievements in German culture. This year’s winner of the Lessing Prize is Juliane Rebentisch, professor of philosophy and art history at Offenbach University of Art and Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung Offenbach am Main).

Professor Rebentisch works in aesthetics and ethics. She is the author of, among other works, The Art of Freedom: On the Dialectics of Democratic Existence and Aesthetics of Installation Art. She received her PhD from Freie Universität Berlin.

Rebentisch is the first woman to receive the award, which includes approximately $12,500, since it was bestowed on Hannah Arendt in 1959.

Source: ArtForum

The post Hamburg’s Lessing Prize Winner Announced appeared first on Daily Nous.

Ursula Le Guin: Spinozism, Inductive risk and the Shadow of Power.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 05/02/2018 - 10:56pm in


art, Religion

[A] man: who, knowing his whole true self, cannot be used or possessed by any power other than himself, and whose life therefore is lived for life's sake and never in the service of ruin, or pain, or hatred, or the dark. Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea, 199.

When Ursula Le Guin died last month, I felt a moment's regret not having sent her my two previous posts [here on the Dispossessed and here on The Left Hand of the Darkness.] But I had not done so because I was self-conscious of the fact that I had not fully taken the measure of her greatness yet -- more works could appear -- and, more truthfully, I wanted to give myself time to develop my reading of her. I encountered her works relatively recently -- I had been casting around for suggestions for a course on utopian fiction I taught a few years ago -- , and I read her novels relatively slowly wishing to savior each, and grappling with the full implications, before I move on to the next.

It is fair to say that a running theme through Le Guin's works is the sharp distinction between power and good practical judgment. Perhaps, this is really the underlying theme of all excellent science fiction. We tend to forget how astounding the technological change of the last century and a half has been. Thanks to fantastic scientific and technological advances, we can now manipulate and redirect hidden and previously un-imagined natural powers for often previously unimaginable ends. The idea that signals can be sent across vast distances to produce controlled sounds and images may well have occurred to past generations, but the particular occult powers -- electromagnetic waves -- that are used for this were really not guessed at for most of human history. Le Guin's output is exemplary of the post Nuclear consciousness of the expanded range and scope of destruction now in the hands of humanity.

I own the Earthsea novels in a children's imprint (Puffin). And it's true that in these novels her writing avoids lengthy, complex sentences, and that the vocabulary is in some sense simplified. This also gives these works an elegant almost biblical sparseness and clarity, eminently quotable. While wizards, enchantresses, witches, and dragons provide the local color, the story plays out on an extended archipelago [we are meant to see our continents in a new light] with the backdrop of an environmental catastrophe and potential man-induced civilizational collapse:

A mage can control only what is near him, what he can name exactly and wholly....If it were not so, the wickedness of the powerful or the  folly of the wise would long ago have sought to change what cannot be changed, and Equilibrium would fail. The unbalanced sea would overwhelm the islands where we perilously dwell, and in the old silence all voices and all names would be lost. (60)

This quote offers a window in the larger metaphysical assumptions of Earthsea. Most of our words only track and describe -- like the utterances of the prisoners in Plato's cave -- sensible qualities. But the hidden essences of things, their beings, are knowable and they are identical with their true names. For, "magic consists in this, the true naming of a thing." So, the know and to make a thing is the same activity such that to produce and control a thing is to name it 'exactly and wholly.' In Earthsea each true thing becomes a locally closed, coupled system with the agent naming it exactly and wholly. Each such system of known things is in fragile equilibrium, and the whole of the universe is also such a closed system in equilibrium. The sense of fragility is, in turn, nicely captured by the phrase 'the folly of the wise.' (I return to this below.)

The previous paragraph pretends as if individual things have full reality. But that's not quite so. there is a strain of Spinozism in Earthsea. For to be named is to be, and this just is power.*  This is nicely captured by a comment near the end of the novel, "My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring  of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name." (182)

But the limited, albeit real, being of things naturally give rise -- in virtue of their limitations -- to 'entities' without genuine being.  (Their being is unnamed and does "belong in the world" (97).This is the (ahh) shadow existence of, say, holes and shadows (etc.). The great artistic trick of the first volume of Earthsea, is to imagine the destabilizing effects of the use of great power in the service of pride and "wish for glory" (36) as a decoupling of beings from their shadowing-non-beings. (There are shades of Mani and Tao.)

This post so far makes it sound as if Earthsea is about metaphysics. That's somewhat misleading if only because this is a society in which religion is (almost?) completely absent. The true main theme, inductive risk (see here), is made explicit fairly early in the training of the wizard-hero, Ged:

You must not change  one thing, one pebble, one gain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on the act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard's power of Changingand of Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous.

Given that the consequences of any given act are, in principle, infinite, it follows one really ought not use wizardry. And much of the wise wizards are revealed to be extremely restrained with their power. While they reproduce their knowledge in their disciples, they also withhold the most dangerous information until relatively late in the training. Even so, ambition for glory and pride are not eliminable from human nature, and so new adventures are to be  expected at all times, if we can survive.

The action of the novel is the attempt to restore the necessary balance between true things and their shadows--one imagines that George Lucas drank from the same well.  And while much of our hero's quest is solo, the final voyage can only succeed in the company of his friend and his friend's gift, "the proof of unshakeable trust" (82-3) When religion and its steadfast gods are absent, we require some other anchor, and this is steadfast friendship.

Strikingly, while friendship is symbolized by the disclosing of names, and so power, it is not a real being and so escapes the equilibriating beingshadow duality of everything else. This is so because friendship is ultimately founded on nothing solid, but (rather) faith, which we are told is expressive of our need to have story-telling witnesses to our deeds.


*A true oath which names true beings is, thus, unbreakable.

On Seneca's Self-Reliance

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 31/01/2018 - 1:17am in

Sail, therefore, not just past one insidious place because of its treacherous delights, but past every city. Be deaf to those who love you most of all; they good natured [bono animo] pray for the wrong sort [mala] of things on your behalf. And, if you would be happy [felix], entreat the gods that none of their fond desires for you may be brought to pass. What they wish to have upon you are not really good things; there is only one good, the cause and the main prop [firmamentum] of a happy life,-trust in oneself [sibi fidere].--Seneca, Letter 31

It is often the case that unsolicited advice from others is more informative about the person proffering the advice than the one receiving it. It can be allowed that practical wisdom may not be rare (even if as Seneca suggests in this letter it involves a certain skill or artistry [prudens atque artifex]), but that, in practice, other people tend not to see your circumstances with the clarity they deserve because it is your path to be trodden not theirs. This is familiar enough. 

In our age of religious pluralism, it is not uncommon for an atheist, say, to receive well wishes by way of prayers to a deity. It does not take any effort to show gratitude and among friends to comment that even if the success of the procedure is doubted, the effort is appreciated and, when efficacious, the benefits welcomed. After all, we can all use all the help we can get when the sailing gets rough. (Seneca deliberately echoes Socrates's understanding of philosophers as the true sailors at Republic 488-9.)

Seneca, however, challenges us to reject, even actively challenge (at least with their gods!), other people's good wishes even prayers because they tend to desire the wrong sorts of things (success, beauty, money, etc.) for us. What we should desire is to become the kind of person that does honorable, enduring things; others have a tendency not to pray for that on our behalf.

And this gets me to the two radical thoughts lurking here. For one may well think surely the god(s) won't listen to and heed misguided prayers. And why is there even a need to ask the gods to ignore the wrong sort of prayers? And Seneca's answer is not to deny the power of the common gods, but to suggest that they don't know what's good for us. Rather, we ought to make ourselves happy [fac te ipse felicem] by doing the right sorts of things.

For, the point of the highest good is not to be a supplicant of the gods but to become godlike (or to be joined in fellowship with god) [incipis deorum socius esse, non supplex]. And to make clear what this entails, Seneca sketches the contours of what we may call (and I now get to the first of two radical things), a philosophical non-anthropomorphic (without beauty or violence) god: the highest and most powerful of beings, who is the true support of all things [deus ille maximus potentissimusque ipse vehit omnia.] With such an (philosophical) godly exemplar, we should turn ourselves into great souls who exhibit integrity and goodness [playing around a bit with animus, sed hic rectus, bonus, magnus]. I emphasize integrity because the highest good for Seneca is to be virtuous and have an internally harmonious and proportionate life [aequalitas ac tenor vitae per omnia consonans sibi] which relies on knowledge of human and divine things.

As an aside, Seneca quotes Virgil's Aeneid "et te quoque dignum/finge deo" to emphasize the point that we should model ourselves on a godly exemplar. He had used the same fragment in Letter 18. (There he had (recall my post) done so to illustrate the rejection of riches as fellowship with the gods.) Seneca hereby shows, without having to say it, that true philosophy needs to rely poetry when it teaches virtue. (He uses a passage in which Aeneas is being exhorted to emulate Hercules by humble Evander--the exact spot is where Rome's symbols of imperial might will stand.)

And, second, Seneca emphasize that each of us [e.g., a Roman knight just as well as into a freedman's son or a slave] can become godlike in this fashion. One can leap to the heights from the slums [Subsilire in caelum ex angulo licet].* For -- and here Seneca puts his own political career in its proper perspective -- human hierarchy is always and everywhere the offspring of human ambition and misdeeds [nomina ex ambitione aut iniuria nata].

Let me come to a close. Seneca poetically introduces his philosophical conception of God at the very moment when he rejects the very idea of any human exemplar to the best form of life.  He does so, however, with  a kind of anti-poetics, which anticipates Romans 9.21 (and, recall,  Smith and Spinoza), because the god we must emulate is molded not from gold or silver, but clay. The point is to inspire us to become generous souls [Generosos animos] who promote noble causes through hard work. And to do this we must dare to be steadfast and turn our backs on the wisdom and wishes of crowds.

And, yet, by withdrawing from popular opinion, and inspiring heroic deeds, Seneca flirts with abjuring kindness and disowning gentle love. And so his prototype of self-reliance edges perhaps too closely to the sort of fanatic who shudders at human touch.



*Richard M. Gummere translates caelum as heaven and so one can leap to heaven. But this has unfortunate connotations in a Christian context.